Illusion And Reality In Heart Of Darkness

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An illusion happens in the mind and is the projected onto external data such as experiences or circumstances. Reality is what actually exists independent of the perceiver, it does not rely on the mind to alter it. Illusion and reality directly affect each other, an illusion could not be possible without reality. Likewise, Heart of Darkness is a book that was written by Joseph Conrad in 1899. In Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Conrad uses illusion to distort the reality of what is really going on in the Congo, the company’s main mission in the Congo, was to civilize the nation. In reality, the company went to the Congo to make money and to turn the natives into slaves. Back at home, the people of Belgium think the company is making money and doing well, although they are actually out of money and bringing terror to the people of the Congo. The novel itself destroys European illusions of Christianizing and civilizing the Congo by revealing the truth of the imperialist conquest.

The way Conrad uses double narrators to add to the illusion and mystery of the book. Marlow tells the story of his journey through the Congo from his point of view to an unknown crewman aboard the boat. This crewman turns out to be the mysterious unknown narrator who then tells Marlow’s story to the readers. The author does this to add to the distortion of reality. When Marlow’s story gets passed to the unknown narrator, he then gets to pick and choose what details to include or omit. This leaves the reality of what happens in the story up to him. “Marlow sat cross-legged right aft, leaning against the mizzenmast. He has sunken cheeks, a yellow complexions, a straight back, an ascetic aspect, and, with his arms dropped, the palms of hands outwards, resembled an idol. ….. We exchanged a few words lazily. Afterwards there was silence on board the yacht.” Although there is an external narrator in the story, the description of Marlow depicts his as peaceful, like a buddha statue. This suggests that Marlow will attempt to bring light to the situation in the Congo. He will be the most likely to be truthful about the mission.

The reality of a character named Kurtz reveals some truth in the story. During Marlow’s journey, he becomes infatuated with a character named Kurtz. Marlow spends his whole voyage attempting to find Kurtz and befriend him. Eventually Marlow discovers Kurtz, however Kurtz does not meet his expectations. “But his soul was mad. Being alone in the wilderness, it had looked within itself and, by heavens I tell you, it had gone mad.” “Anything approaching the change that came over his features I have never seen before, and hope never to see again.” Kurtz has let the natives of the Congo influence him so much that he has gone mad. Kurtz has fully lost his sanity, and does not even have his own personality left.

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Conrad’s Heart of Darkness reveals the illusion that many Europeans are under the influence that imperialism in the Congo meant the spread of Christianity. However, The following is a quote from Marlow’s Aunt where she basically tells Marlow to spread Christianity to the heathens. “Good heavens! and I was going to take charge of a two penny-half-penny river-steamboat with a penny whistle attached! It appeared, however, I was also one of the Workers, with a capital—you know. Something like an emissary of light, something like a lower sort of apostle. There had been a lot of such rot let loose in print and talk just about that time, and the excellent woman, living right in the rush of all that humbug, got carried off her feet. She talked about ‘weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways,’ till, upon my word, she made me quite uncomfortable.’

Between the 1870s and 1900, Africa faced European imperialist aggression, diplomatic pressures, military invasions, and eventual conquest and colonization. During this time, the citizens back in Belgium were convinced their people were spreading Christianity.

To conclude, the author of Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad, uses the literary tools of illusion and reality in multiple ways. During this expedition, the people of Belgium are thoroughly convinced the mission is spreading Christianity, however the imperialist conquest was to export ivory and rubber out of the Congo. Also, the way Conrad uses double narrators adds to the theme of illusion and mystery in the story. Marlow tells his story to an unknown crewmember who later tells the reader the story as the unknown narrator. The way Conrad uses Kurtz’s character adds to the theme of illusion. I believe Conrad was trying to teach us an important lesson with the Heart of Darkness. He was sending a message to the readers to tell them that they have to determine what truly happened. In the story, and in life. We cannot let our reality be distorted by illusions.

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Illusion And Reality In Heart Of Darkness. (2021, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 24, 2022, from
“Illusion And Reality In Heart Of Darkness.” Edubirdie, 12 Aug. 2021,
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